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Hairdressers and Managers - Today's Working Icons

August 23 2006 - A recent report from the Work Foundation identifies the occupations of hairdresser, management consultant, celebrity and manager as offering the best insight into current trends and the nature of working life. In 'Paradigm trades: The iconic jobs of the early 21st century' Stephen Overell argues that personalizing the debate in this way represents an alternative approach to considering the future of work.

Stephen Overell said:

"In the early twentieth century, it was obvious what we meant by the word 'worker' - most of us would point to the factory worker, the unionized, male proletarian who was the key figure of his time. Today, it is no longer so obvious. Modern work is contradictory and complex. The idea behind a paradigm trade is that a few workers, doing very different types of work, act as representatives for the entire modern world of work. It is these workers more than any other that offer us spokespeople for what is going on at work and within our culture as a whole."

Stephen Overell argues that characteristics of each paradigm occupation offer different insights:

  1. Hairdressers (and other personal services)
    • much work remains manual, physical and craft-related
    • demonstrate the importance of social skills in work
    • prove how work has become "personal" and "aesthetic"
    • show that "the rhetoric of globalization has been overplayed".
  2. Management consultants
    • show the power of the outsider
    • are the archetypal knowledge worker
    • stand for the current "pronounced love of change".
  3. Celebrities
    • demonstrate how people are becoming their work
    • "showcase the aesthetic turn of modern work and modern life"
    • defy the notion of "productivity".
  4. Managers
    • are the biggest and fastest rising group
    • demonstrate the growing obsession with hierarchy and status
    • their character is central to most fundamental dilemmas relating to morality and the market.

    Stephen Overell argues that debate about the future of work has traditionally focused on themes, for example "portfolio workers" or "the hourglass economy". The concept of a paradigm trade personalizes the subject. He adds:

    "There are two impulses that our economy believes in more than any other - the power of presentation and the power of organization. The paradigm trades offer the closest thing we can find to spokespeople for the modern world of work."


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